The Finances of Fraud
The numbers are in. The Federal Trade Commission released its report of fraud complaints from last year, and the news was shocking. Over the past three years reported losses to consumer scams have tripled topping out a $5.9 billion in 2021.
A total of 5.7 million Americans reported a scam last year and the average consumer loss was $500. The top scams included identity theft, impostor scams and online shopping scams. Most of these same scams are still active today, which is why it’s important to avoid answering calls from unknown phone numbers or clicking on links from texts or emails from suspicious or unknown senders. And remember, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
Money is often the hook criminals use to try and lure their victims in. Here are some things to keep in mind that will help you stay safe.
Tax Time is Imposter Season
Tax time is here again and so are the IRS impostors. Scammers posing as IRS agents or Treasury Department officials are calling to convince taxpayers that they owe back taxes and face immediate arrest if they don’t pay immediately.
Know that anytime a taxpayer faces a tax problem, the real IRS will reach out via mail, and will not call unless they don’t hear back after multiple letters. If you receive an unexpected phone call, email or text indicating it’s the IRS, do not engage. If you are concerned you may owe back taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or visit irs.gov/balancedue.
Debt Relief Scams
Debt is something that can creep up on anyone, and before long, you are looking for a way out of it. But use caution — sometimes, tempting offers of debt relief will only make your own problems worse, while lining the pockets of criminal scammers.
Debt relief scams promise “guarantees” to get you out of debt quickly and cleanly. They often ask for advance payment (which is illegal) for the “services” they provide. Sometimes they will even advise you to stop paying your creditors.
If you are struggling with debt, consider negotiating with creditors directly or connect with a debt counselor through a nonprofit credit counseling organization, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org).
Crypto IS Currency for Criminals
Sometimes you can spot a scam based on how you are prompted to pay for something – say, lottery winnings or a past due utility bill. What once was the domain of wire transfers and gift cards is fast becoming flooded with cryptocurrency as a form of payment in scams. (No form of payment ever really goes out of style, but criminals jump on new ways of stealing money at every opportunity.)
Most of us don’t understand cryptocurrency, and may not care to, and that might make us feel protected. However, buying cryptocurrency might be as close as your local grocery store. Many retail locations are adding machines that allow customers to buy and send cryptocurrency with a debit or credit card. This means that, once a criminal has their target convinced of a threat or opportunity – something they call getting them “under the ether” - they simply can send their victim to the nearest crypto machine to get paid.
Rapidly changing financial technology makes it hard to stay up to speed on the latest threats. But it isn’t hard to stay up on the latest scams making use of them – sign up for biweekly Watchdog Alerts from AARP at aarp.org/watchdogalerts, or text FWN to 50757.
Be a fraud fighter! If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all. Learn how to proactively spot scams or get guidance if you’ve been targeted. Visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call our dedicated helpline to speak to a fraud specialist at 1-877-908-3360.
And make sure to tune into AARP Live on RFD-TV the third Thursday of every month for “Rural America Live – With AARP.”